Greetings from Bloomington, Indiana and sincerest apologies for the silence. The past month has been one of the normal moving craziness which inhibited my ability to devote the standard amount of time to the Simpsons. These real life factors resulted in the delay for this post (as well as the lack of lucidity), and as coursework ramps up in the coming weeks it is entirely possible that my work on this Every Simpsons Ever will become more sporadic. While I intend to finish what I started, it is entirely possible the pacing crawls slower than last summer when I was significantly less busy. Anyhow, without further adieu, some words on the eighteenth season:
It is fitting that You Kent Always Say What You Want begins as it does: a blank screen and the inscription “20 Years Ago…” followed by the Tracy Ullman Show short Family Portraits. Taking place directly after the writers grafted the extended community of Springfield onto a surprisingly successful 24 crossover-parody, a return to the roots of the show is warranted. The premise is simple: Homer wants to take a nice family photo, but the members keep screwing it up. Like most Simpsons humor, it takes the form of a gag, but unlike much of the recent episodes it is a reminder of what made the Simpsons iconic. A part of the reason the show lasted so long is that these gags, at least at first, caricatured the life of the contemporary suburban, middle-class American. Not the one that goes to the Moon or takes part in crazy, transatlantic hijinks, but the one that represents the U.S. and all of its flaws.
One thing I noted while watching the season was its depiction of movement–one such instance is Santa’s Little Helper winding his way through the corn maze and passing odd acts, as well as the point of view tracking shot in You Kent Always Say What You Want. This is an interesting moment in a season which is attempting to feel more personal than the wacky, surrealist years preceding it, as it displaces the viewer into the character, having them see Springfield and pass through a set of gags while paying little attention. These could function as jokes, but the character/spectator passes through them. In many ways, this encapsulates the manner in which characters would pay no special attention to the ridiculous events transpiring in Springfield (think of Frank Grimes’ shock at this matter), whilst encouraging the viewer to empathize with the fictional character and understand their world. It’s emblematic of what the season has to offer, that is, a continued insistence on gags but a renewed focus on the personal.
A turn inwards is further apparent through the season at large, where the show continues to portray guest stars as random characters in lieu of celebrity cameos. This makes for a stronger season, one that focuses more on churning out any remaining emotional development possible with the time tested structure where new, anonymous characters that represent a portion of society introduce us to a new facet of the characters–like Bart actually getting a psychologist and getting to the depth of his problem, or Homer befriending a roofer that nobody believes in in order to show both his loneliness, as well as the incorrect lens through which family and friends continually judge him to be crazy rather than a victim of his circumstances.
Elsewhere, the show also continues its emphasis on ancillary characters, with episodes that use well worn characters in order to try to bring some level of originality, or even growth, to the titular family. This is often done through odd-couple arrangements, as an outing focuses on Moe learning to be less self centered (through Lisa), Gil’s parasitic behavior having Marge evolve from being the doormat she is, the Spuckler clan teaching Lisa that her elitism may not be warranted, and even the tandem of Lou and Santa’s Little Helper. This may not seem like an epiphany, but its where the show is at after eighteen seasons, using its gag structure and haphazardly combining unrelated characters in search of a unique plot.
Recently, the creators announced the the 18th season would be released on a physical version once more because of its significance; its hard to argue with their point. Though the aforementioned structure harkens to the golden age of the show, season 18 represents a crossroads as it is the last season before The Simpsons Movie (more to come on that soon), and one in which the writers are clearly moving from the surrealist, wackiness of the mid-era Simpsons and trying to define what a late-era Simpsons episode will look like, and what, if anything, it has to say about contemporary culture, much like the short released twenty years prior.
A quick aside before moving on–and apologies for the brevity in this post due to personal factor–quality wise, Season 18 does represent a rebound with quite a few episodes worth watching–Springfield Up and its commentary on and reframing of the past episodes, The Boys of Bummer, and You Kent Always Say What You Want may not be instant classics, but they are all great episodes. In addition, this season has many solid points, with none of the groan inducing lows we’ve seen recently. More, deeper analysis will follow in the seasons to come.
Favorite Episode: You Kent Always Say What You Want
Favorite Quote: “It’s not me, I swear. I’m only allergic honey, wheat, dairy, non-dairy and my own tears!”-Milhouse van Houten (Don’t Hammer Em, Homer)
Favorite Couch Gag: Homer evolves through time to get to the couch (Homerazzi)
Favorite Chalkboard Gag: “I Will Not Look Up How Much Teacher Makes” (Crook and Ladder)
Favorite Short Term/Non-Recurring Character: Declin Desmond (Springfield Up)
Favorite Musical Moment: “How do you solve a blabbermouth like Lisa” (Yokel Chords)